by Dr Ruth Rae FACN
Dr Ruth Rae FACN has been a registered nurse since 1978 and has worked as a freelance researcher and writer for more than 20 years. Her interest in nursing history led to her completing a PhD thesis and multiple books on Australian nurses in the First World War. ACN partnered with Dr Rae to publish a Trilogy box set called The History of Nurses of Australian Nurses in the First World War. This blog series provides an insight into Dr Rae’s research methods and a sneak peek into the stories within the Trilogy.
Recently, there has been a great deal of understandable interest in the final resting places of our many ‘unknown soldiers’. ACN was determined that the 20 years of research I undertook to indentify (as far as possible) the 2,468 Australian nurses who served in the First World War was published so we included an additional volume in the Trilogy. It may seem counter-intuitive to have a four volume trilogy but the fact is that there are three books and one Nominal Roll. Remember when reading any aspect of the Trilogy, these women were civilian trained nurses, like us, who served in the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century. Unlike our present-day professional military nurses, the nurses whose lives are outlined in the Trilogy and Nominal Roll were military nurses for the duration of the war only.
I compiled the Nominal Roll the pre-tech way; by recording, by hand, on a white card ANY information about any nurse I came across while researching and writing the three books. I then created a biographical dictionary by cross-referencing the Nurses’ Service Records and my white card file. The Service Records are housed at the National Archives of Australia and while they are now digitised I used to travel to Canberra to do this in the early days. If the nurse’s name and details could be verified and/or there was supporting evidence from letters or diaries of other nurses, I would include the nurse in my Nominal Roll.
One of the more difficult and time consuming aspects of my research was identifying the nurses who died and where they were buried. I spend some time outlining this process throughout the footnotes of the books but if you want to understand why I remained committed to identifying our nurses, have a sneak peak at the Nominal Roll. The ACN and I believe that the least we can do as a profession is to record the names of our 2,468 colleagues and identify the final resting places of those who did not survive.